Pentagon’s Cyber Mission Force Needs Better Training Plan

By Frank R. Konkel

March 8, 2019

The Defense Department’s cyber warrior teams are struggling to maintain readiness, according to a congressional auditor.

In 2013, the Defense Department began a years-long process to stand up 133 Cyber Mission Force teams of military personnel with elite cyber training to defend critical information networks.

The department reached full operating capability before its deadline, but a Government Accountability Office audit released Wednesday found the Cyber Mission Force began experiencing training and readiness issues last year.

As of November 2018, many of the 133 CMF teams that initially reported achieving full operational capability no longer had the full complement of trained personnel, and therefore did not meet Cyber Command’s readiness standards,” the audit said.

The audit states U.S. Cyber Command responded by beefing up its readiness procedures as the Defense Department shifted “focus from building to maintaining a trained CMF,” outsourcing foundational training responsibility to the armed services. However, GAO identified several flaws in the Pentagon’s shift in training procedures, namely that armed services’ plans are short on specifics.

For example, the Army and Air Force “do not have time frames for required validation of foundational courses” to Cyber Command’s standards.

Further, services' plans do not include all CMF training requirements, such as the numbers of personnel that need to be trained,” the audit states. “Also, Cyber Command does not have a plan to establish required independent assessors to ensure the consistency of collective CMF training.”

The audit also found that from 2013 to 2018, CMF personnel made 700 exemption requests from training based on their previous experience, with 85 percent of those personnel receiving at least one course exemption. Yet the audit states Cyber Command “has not established training task lists for foundational training courses,” suggesting a haphazard approach to granting course exemptions.

The services need these task lists to prepare appropriate course equivalency standards,” the audit states.

To remedy training and readiness issues, GAO made eight recommendations. They include the Army and Air Force identifying time frames for validating foundational CMF courses and that military services develop CMF training plans with specific personnel requirements. The Defense Department agreed with all eight recommendations.

By Frank R. Konkel // Frank Konkel is Nextgov’s executive editor. He writes about the intersection of government and technology. Frank began covering tech in 2013 upon moving to the Washington, D.C. area after getting his start in journalism working at local and state issues at daily newspapers in his home state of Michigan. Frank was born and raised on a dairy farm and graduated from Michigan State University.

March 8, 2019